February 2021

I wrap up work and walk out the lane to the main road, taking my time on the way out to watch the ewes and their lambs, who are now racing all over the pastures as we near the end of lambing season.

As I turn around at the end of the lane and look up to the ridge on the west, in the distance I see a ewe keeled over on her side, surrounded by vultures. I know nothing about livestock, but I know that doesn't look good. If the rancher has a dead ewe to deal with, I think he'd want to know, so I open the gate to the pasture and mount the ridge to take a closer look.

As I approach the ewe I scare off the vultures and realize that they're premature--the ewe is still living and appears to be mid-birth. I feel intuitively that something is wrong, but I hesitate. I've seen ewes licking their just-born lambs clean, but I've never seen a live birth before, so I don't trust my intuition--perhaps some births are more complicated and take longer. I decide to watch the ewe from a distance before taking any action.

With hindsight I'm aware that I was self-conscious about not wanting to be unduly alarmed. While I know the rancher appreciates our input when we observe something notable about his flock, I'm still learning what merits an emergency call and what can wait until the next time I see him. So I wait and watch, hoping hoping hoping that a lamb will pop out, the ewe will stand up and start licking, and I can get on with my evening.

After 15 minutes nothing's changed. The ewe is still on her side, kicking and pushing to no effect. I text the rancher, and he responds immediately: "I will be right there." I return to the house to let Amy know what's happening and walk back up the ridge to wait for the rancher. I know his truck and am relieved when I finally see it pulling up at the end of the lane.

He leaves his truck in the lane to avoid riling up the flock--if they see the truck they'll assume he's here with winter fodder and will swarm around it. I meet him halfway up the ridge and tell him what I've seen. We reach the ewe, and he approaches her calmly. He stands her up and notes that she's still pushing, which is encouraging. The ewe's side is matted with amniotic fluid, but he doesn't think that she's been down too long.

He walks her around a bit, but it's clear that she needs help. He lays her down again, and asks me to hold up her head. As I do, he reaches in and pulls. And pulls and pulls and pulls. All the time I'm holding her head, and she's bleating as she pushes--not the anguished bleat of a ewe who's lost her lamb in the pasture, but something softer and more tender. It was one of the most emotionally intimate moments I've had with an animal, and it's hard to convey just how much I appreciated her strength, and just how helpless I felt.

Shortly the rancher discovers the cause of the problem: there are twins, and their forelegs got caught in the birth canal at the same time. He's able to free the first one and pull it out, and he tries to slap some life into it, but we're too late. He pulls out the second twin, and I have a sudden burst of hope that perhaps this one's survived, but no. The rancher swabs out their mouths, palpates their chests, swings them in the air, but no. They're both dead. It's late in the season, so they're big--bigger than some of the new lambs toddling around us--and if they'd lived they'd be strapping. But their size worked against them, and they got trapped in the womb, and now they're dead.

I'm still holding the ewe's head up, feeling her exhaustion, but the rancher knows that we have to get her on her feet again, and he does. She regains her footing and staggers away, afterbirth trailing behind her. It is sad, and it is brutal, and it is the reality of life on a farm. We watch the ewe, making sure she's alright, and talk. As we do, one of the most glorious sunsets I've ever seen unfolds to the west. We're less than 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by green hills and working farms, and it's both spectacularly beautiful and unbelievably mundane--just another day at work in the Land of Oz.

The rancher thanks me for texting him and is glad that we saved the ewe. And I know that lambs die, and I have to be prepared for that prospect if I'm going to live on a farm. I also know that I had an intuition that something was wrong, and I waited 15 minutes to do something about it, and that delay may have killed those lambs.

My life has taken some unexpected turns over the last year, full of highs and lows, and this day perfectly encapsulates all of it. I feel good about helping to save the ewe, and I feel like shit for not saving the lambs. I'm grateful for an opportunity to be of service, and I'm dismayed by my helplessness. I'm awed by the beauty of this land and the magic of a sunset, and I'm keenly aware that it will all outlast me. I walk down the lane to the house and find Amy and give her a hug.

1. From My Archives:
Ignoring Bandits and Building Resilience

A master monk is meditating in a temple with other monks. Suddenly a fierce bandit storms into the temple, threatening to kill everybody. The other monks flee, but the master monk remains, calmly meditating. Enraged, the bandit shouts, "Don't you understand? I could run you through with my sword and not bat an eye!" The monk calmly replies, "Don't you understand? I could be run through by your sword and not bat an eye."  ~Linda Graham, Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being

When I first encountered this parable from the Buddhist tradition in Linda Graham's outstanding book it was immediately evident to me how useful it would be to adopt the master monk's stance toward all my "bandits"--the people and circumstances that threatened or obstructed me. It's only with time that I've come to realize that the "bandits" are really my own emotions--all the feelings that arise when some illusion causes me to view people or circumstances as threats or obstructions.


2. Recommended:

Connect: Building Exceptional Relationships...

This recommendation deserves a bit more context than usual, because the authors, David Bradford and Carole Robin, are two of my most important mentors, and their book is derived from the Interpersonal Dynamics course at the Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB), which changed my life when I took it with Mary Ann Huckabay (perhaps my most important mentor) as an MBA student in 1999.

I first worked with David at the GSB in 2006 as his teaching assistant in High Performance Leadership. Earlier that year I had launched my coaching practice and been accepted into the school's training program that would prepare me to facilitate groups in Interpersonal Dynamics (which everyone affectionately calls "Touchy Feely.") I met Carole when she was a guest lecturer in David's class, and we stayed in touch--shortly thereafter she let me know that the school was hiring its first team of in-house coaches, and she thought I should apply for one of the positions. I got the job, and I've played a number of different roles at the school over the past 15 years, including working alongside David and Carole as a member of the Touchy Feely faculty.

Touchy Feely is based on the
T-group methodology first developed in the late 1940s by pioneering social psychologist Kurt Lewin and popularized in the 1950s and '60s by a group whose leadership included Leland Bradford, David's father. T-groups became widespread in large organizations and universities, and a version of Interpersonal Dynamics was first taught at Stanford in the late 1960s. David arrived at the GSB in 1969 and had a profound impact over the subsequent decades, not only as a teacher but also through his writing on group dynamics, and Touchy Feely ultimately became the most popular class at the GSB thanks to his persistent efforts. Enrollment wasn't nearly as widespread when I was an MBA student in the late '90s. I'd estimate that only about 30 percent of my classmates took the course, in contrast to roughly 85 percent of GSB students today.

Carole arrived at the GSB in 2001, and she rapidly became one of the school's most notable faculty members. Her sections of Touchy Feely were always oversubscribed, and after being trained as a group facilitator by Mary Ann I had the good fortune to serve on Carole's staff multiple times. Later I worked closely with Carole in the Leadership Coaching class and in the Leadership Fellows program, which I helped to launch in 2007 and which Carole took over in 2012. A pivotal moment in my growth and development occurred in 2010, when Carole invited me to co-facilitate a T-group with her in the school's summer program for executives. I was honored--and anxious--but Carole's encouraging support and her faith in my abilities enabled me to step up as her partner, and I felt like I'd graduated to a new level of professionalism.

All of this is to say: My life wouldn't be the same without David and Carole, so don't expect an objective, unbiased review here. At the same time, I feel exceptionally well-positioned to speak about their work on this topic, and I can't imagine two people better-qualified to write this book than David and Carole, not only because of their expertise as educators, but also because of their ongoing efforts to apply its principles in their own lives. They've navigated challenges in their own relationship as colleagues and friends, some of which they discuss in the book, and I've done some of that work with them as well, particularly with Carole.

For example, in the year after Carole took over the Leadership Fellows program, we frequently found ourselves at odds on multiple issues, which at the time we both found perplexing, given how effectively we'd worked together in other settings. But we hung in there through a series of conflicts and emerged with a better understanding of each other, a healthy respect for our differences, and the ability to maintain a caring relationship even (and especially) when we found ourselves in disagreement. So while you should take this recommendation with a grain of salt, because I can't truly separate my relationships with David and Carole from my appreciation of their work, note that I'm speaking from personal experience, and I have practiced--with them--what they preach.   

3. One Minute of Calm

We need moments of calm now more than ever, and I regularly post short videos of the natural world from Marin, Mendocino or Sonoma County. (I've had to take a break from daily posts, but I hope to resume soon.) Visit for more videos, or get them via email or Twitter.

4. Miscellany: Éthiopiques

Years ago I was visiting my brother Matt, where he kept a large collection of CDs and LPs in his basement. Poking around one day I discovered a disc I'd never even heard of: Éthiopiques, Volume 4. This began my love affair with the Ethiopian jazz scene of the 1960s and '70s that continues to this day, although calling it "jazz" feels a little narrow, compressing a sprawling tradition to fit neatly into a single category. Some artists might well be classified under "Ethiopian R&B" or "Ethiopian acid rock." But it's too late now--calling it jazz will have to do.

Éthiopiques series, launched by the French label Buda Musique in 1997 now includes 30 albums, the most recent released in 2017, and I have most of them--here are a few standout cuts:

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